Legislative Update: In a Week of Aggressive Deal-Making, Public Education Still Left in the Dust

News from the 88th Legislative Session

Property Tax Deal Reached, Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

The second special session of the 88th Texas Legislature ended this week when the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate finally passed the property tax relief agreement reached by Republican leadership and announced earlier this week. The bills will be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed, while the joint resolution will be on Texas voters’ November ballot in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.

The most significant development in the negotiations between the House and Senate was the removal of the “supplemental payments” for teachers that public education champion Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) added to the Senate property tax relief plan with unanimous bipartisan support. Under Gutierrez’s amendment, classroom teachers in school districts with a student enrollment of 20,000 or fewer would have received a bonus of $6,000 in 2023 and 2024, while those teaching in a school district with a student enrollment of greater than 20,000 would have received bonuses of $2,000.

Those bonuses were stripped from the property tax relief legislation passed by the Texas Legislature this week, which:

  • Allocates about $12.6 billion to reduce the school property tax rate by 10.7 cents per $100 valuation for homeowners and business properties
  • Increases the state’s homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000 at an estimated cost of $5.3 billion
  • Establishes a three-year pilot of a 20% cap on appraisal increases for commercial and non-homesteaded properties valued at $5 million or below — a number that could be adjusted by the comptroller with inflation each year (a mechanism that the Legislature has not deemed appropriate for funding public schools or teacher compensation …)
  • Provides some extra relief for seniors and property owners with disabilities, averaging about $170 more per year
  • Reduces the revenue threshold past which businesses must pay the franchise tax, resulting in lost revenue to the public school finance system

Proponents estimate that the “average” homeowner will save $1,300 a year under the combined effects of this plan. However, it must be noted that this plan has serious flaws, including the omission of renters, the focus on one-time relief, and the windfall it will direct from the surplus to businesses and wealthy Texans, instead of pouring that money into additional funding for the school finance system or educators’ pockets. 

Texas AFT fears that this irresponsible use of our state’s historic $33 billion surplus is setting the public education system up for funding cuts in upcoming legislative sessions that will harm students and educators.

House Democrats Push Back on Property Tax Inequity

After Republican leadership announced its property tax relief agreement, some Democrats in the Texas House pushed back.

Legislation referred to as “joint resolutions” that propose amendments to the Texas Constitution for voter approval are required to receive the support of two-thirds of the total membership of both chambers in the Texas Legislature. Following the announcement of the deal, Rep. Penny Morales Shaw (D-Houston) put together a letter calling for school finance to be dealt with in this special session — a letter that 25 of her colleagues signed. Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas) sent a letter to his colleagues in the Texas House Democratic Caucus urging them to use their leverage in order to negotiate protections for public schools, a higher exemption for homeowners, and relief for rental households.

In the debate on the House floor, a few Democratic state representatives, including Bryant and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, advanced amendments to SB 2 on the following issues that were not allowed to receive a vote:

  • Teacher pay
  • Public school funding
  • Assistance for renters

Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) raised a point of order against these amendments on the grounds that they were not germane to the governor’s call for the special session. These points of order were sustained and resulted in the amendments being defeated procedurally. There were also a few worthwhile amendments that received record votes and were defeated on party lines.

Before the final votes of the afternoon were taken Thursday, Reps. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Dallas), Gene Wu (D-Houston), and Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) made strong statements emphasizing the injustice inherent in the Legislature’s property tax relief plan and the importance of funding our public schools.

The final vote on SB 2 was 133-4, and the final vote on HJR 2 was 132-5.

Texas AFT had high hopes that the Texas Legislature would step up and deliver for students, educators, and school employees ahead of the upcoming school year with the $33 billion surplus available. Words do not suffice to express our frustration and disappointment with the outcomes of the 88th Texas Legislature (so far). Our thanks go to the elected officials and staff who worked tirelessly for a different outcome, and to those who took a stand and fought for their neighborhood schools in yesterday’s debate.

There is just under $4 billion available for school employee raises and increased funding for our public schools that has been appropriated in the state budget for the upcoming biennium. It’s a sizable but inadequate amount, given that it would cost approximately $14.5 billion just to cover inflation since 2019. These issues are expected to be taken up in yet another special session in late September, and the governor has claimed that school finance and teacher raises will be addressed in an omnibus bill that also includes vouchers.

Recap: House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity & Enrichment

The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, established to explore a range of issues related to public education and produce a report including recommendations, met Tuesday and Wednesday to hear panels with only invited testimony.

Texas AFT was glad to see friends of the organization at the hearings, including Round Rock ISD student and youth activist Ayaan Moledina, Education Round Rock President Tammy Conrad, and other public education supporters and stakeholders.

There was rigorous discussion in the hearing about some of the most salient issues facing our public schools and our profession, including:

  • the special education funding gap
  • improving teacher compensation
  • respect for educators and related rhetoric, politicization
  • assessment and evaluation
  • accountability
  • funding for our starving public schools and inflation
  • property taxes and perverse local outcomes
  • class sizes and working conditions
  • parental involvement and responsibility
  • charter schools
  • vouchers

Texas AFT will work to ensure that the report produced by the select committee represents a rigorous analysis of these issues and accurately represents the diverse perspectives and experiences of educators and school employees. 

You can assist in this effort by submitting public comments to the committee through the House’s online portal. It’s vital that committee members hear directly from the public school employees, parents, and students who will be affected by the recommendations in their report. If you’re new to writing public comments and aren’t sure how to do it, you can download our how-to guide.  
You have until July 17 to submit comments. The committee’s report is due Aug. 11.